USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘arizona’
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor

Arizona Desert Metaphor

Subject: Folk expression.

Collection: “It’s hotter than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut.”

Background Info: K. Cowdery is 21 years old and a junior Narrative Studies major at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and now resides in Los Angeles where she attends school.

Context: My friend shared this piece of folklore while joking about odd things the generation over than us say. She heard this from her father’s friend (who is in his late 50’s) and is a cattle rancher. Essentially, in the desert after it rains, the cars and wagons make deep ruts in the road that then harden and crack once the weather gets warm again. Since the ruts get hotter than the surrounding area, snakes like to lay down in the rut to get warm. Since a snake’s butt is located on their stomach is, they are absorbing the heat from the rut and surrounding dessert through their butt.

Analysis: This metaphor capitalizes on a knowledge of and interaction with desert weather and the fauna that calls it home. While someone not from the desert can understand that the simile is used to communicate that it is hot outside, only people who have experienced and forced to live in this kind of heat can call upon a sense memory of Arizona summers where temperatures have been recorded about 110 degrees, giving it extra meaning to those from this specific place. It is logical that the expression is used by cattle ranchers because their occupation requires them to spend a lot of time outside in the elements, encountering both heat and snakes. For those most familiar with these elements of the desert landscape, this phrase allows them to relate about the oppressive conditions of their home, strengthening a sense of belonging to the place and defining what it means to be of that place. Lastly, the metaphor includes an element of humor for the teller and the listener, using the amusing nature of the metaphor to help appease the weight of the oppressive heat.

Legends
Narrative

Native American Spirit House

Item:

“So, I grew up in Arizona, uh, in a pretty common neighborhood, except that we were backed up right against the Indian reservation. Um and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an Indian reservation, but it’s usually a very like barren, not very developed area, and especially when you have a suburban neighborhood backed up against that, it really uh, it really lends a stark contrast. So even when you’re a child you could tell the difference, like that’s the Indian reservation, this is the suburbia that I live in. And, so, my family was one of the first to move into an area that had before been undeveloped. I had a couple of friends whose families had also moved into that area. And uh, you know, typical childhood playing around and stuff. And so one day we noticed that a new house was being constructed, a fairly common thing in the neighborhood, uh because once again, it was fairly undeveloped before this. Um they graded the land and they started putting it up. Again, I need to stress; this house was right next to where the Indian reservation is. Like, you could see the fence from like the house. And, so, uh, you know. When they were building this house we could hear really strange noises coming from uh, basically just like the, it was like a wood-only structure basically while it was under construction, as most buildings are. And this house was really big, so it took a long time to build. So this place was here just wood, for like a solid year. And, so again, it was backed up, basically right against, nature. The Indian reservation was virgin desert. So, a lot of strange and mysterious animals would go into the construction site. And uh, you know, so me and my friends would also, you know, play in this abandoned house. And um we found a lot of things in there that we um, that wasn’t typical to find in a suburban house that would be typical to find in the desert. For example, we saw a couple of diamond back rattlesnakes, uh that could have easily, totally messed us up. Uh and these were the years before cell phones, so two of my fifth grade friends would have had to have carried me back if I was bit by one. Anyway, so a lot of animals would creep into this place and we started developing sort of this theory, which seemed completely rational at the time, that this place must be haunted; it must be drawing the Indian spirits, because it had to have been built on an Indian burial ground, of course. So all of this was naturally confirmed one night when, I believe it was mid May, the end of school, when um, we heard very strange noises that sounded like music coming from this place, and we were all hanging out in my backyard, which is less than a block away from this place, and we hear this really loud music and we looked over and there were these lights going on in this place, and it was a wooden structure at this point, so it was very strange to see, and it was dark. So we wondered what it was and we all snuck out. We assumed it the time that it was the strange Indian spirits that had called all their snake friends. And uh so we crept up on this place and peeked in and saw all these people dancing, and naturally we assumed that this was a huge, undead Indian party. Of course it had to of been, you know cause it was dark, there were strobe lights going so you didn’t have a good idea of who was there, and we were seeing this from kind of far away, so we totally ran away from there because we didn’t want to get like  some pissed off Native American spirits coming after us, sicking rattlesnakes on us and what not. I mean, it was definitely a real youthful moment, and my parents actually confirmed that it was Native American spirits because, as it were to turn out, uh the “Native American spirits” had the police called on them due to a noise complaint, yeah but we found out uh, that a girl named Amber who lived down the street actually uh had thrown this party, it was a graduation party.”

Context:

The informant, who is from Scottsdale, Arizona, said that a couple of years after the events in this story happened, when he was in late middle school, he ran into Amber and she told him that her and her friends thew a party that night. The informant stated that this realization marked the end of his youth.

Analysis:

This lengthy narrative has several different dimensions. First, it functions as a sort of ghost story, a tale of the supernatural. It also functions as a legend quest in that the informant and his friends attempt to investigate this neighborhood mystery. Lastly, it functions, in a way, as a rite of passage, a transition from childhood to adolescence. When the informant stated that his realization that what was going on in the house that night was not a Native American spirit gathering, but rather, a party, marked the end of his youth, I think he expressed how invested he was in the notion of these spirits and how much the idea meant to him. Essentially, in a manner similar to a child finding out that Santa does not exist, the informant lost the innocence of his childhood.

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